In many ways, Saigon ceased to exist in the early 70’s when the Communists renamed it Ho Chi Minh City. Yet, someone forgot to tell the South Vietnamese. The people of Saigon are quick to laugh, quick to drink and stay out far too late. It feels that the excesses are more of a way to express cultural resistance, than a desire to party…..but I over-think everything and am wrong more often than not.
Desiring to see a bit of culture, we attended a acrobatic interpretation of the lives of those that live in the South. Young men and women pretended to dodge motorbikes, deal with power outages, fish and farm and live…all the while telling the story as good (I think better) than any cirque du solei. The Opera house was an amazing piece of French colonial design from the mid 1800. Travel is a good excuse to do things that you would never make time to do otherwise.
The city is modern, fast paced and full of wonderful buildings. In researching why there is so many amazing structures, I learned that Indochina (what is now three countries) was dominated by the French with the capital being Saigon. Like an Asian Budapest, Saigon received much of the European love of the colonial lifestyle. When the French left….they left the buildings, the food and a focus on staying up late.
The streets are dominated by motorbikes. 80% of the 10 million inhabitants of Saigon owns a motorbike and uses it for everything from moving barber chairs, stacks of live ducks and I even saw a moto struggling to move a truck motor.
The food here is amazing with every kind of fare imaginable and done with great art. For fun we tried to find northern Indian cuisine and found one literally across the street…next to the “Organic Weasel Coffee” shop. One day we ran across a Carl Jr. and ate greasy American food until we were sick!
With Tamara’s marathon coming so quickly, she wanted to get her final training run in. Lacking a park, she used a neighboring Sheraton hotel gym while I tried to make sense of our upcoming turn north into Cambodia.
Saigon is one of the only places that has an English meeting and we were able to meet the Brothers and talk to them about their lives and ministry. The type of Buddhists here actually believe in a creator and often make small temples to the “creator” god. Like the Athenians of Paul’s day, they are unknowingly worshiping what our friends seek to declare with accuracy. (Acts 17:23) They are able to meet freely in the South but some of the foreign friends are in danger of deportation if they become known by certain words that rhyme with Gilead.
At the meeting, the public talk was on materialism and the example given was a family wanting TWO cars….can you imagine? It is always refreshing to see another side to life but it bothers me how quickly that appreciation fades when we return home….
One day we traveled out to the town of CuChi known for its tunnels that were built by the inhabitants to resist the French occupation but ended up being used to fight the Americans. We were able to crawl through some of the 200 km of the tunnels and see the kitchens, schools and homes. They even had an area where they would take those that were spayed by chemical weapons, which seems to happen here often, from what the government employed guide told us.
At the end of the tour, there was a fairly anti-American propaganda film and a firing range that we could shoot the weapons used during the American War. We both shot a AK-47 with its thin stamped out features and a WW2 M1 Garand that felt and sounded more like an medieval hand canon. I still cant believe how violent the Garand was!
That night as we headed back to our hotel we discussed our convoluted path that would take us up the Mekong to the Kingdom of Cambodia. Dodging manic motorbikes we passed street stalls selling all manner of batteries known to man, 10 minute iphone screen replacement services and boiled dog on fresh Baggett.
Next stop…the Mekong!